On the waterfront

Israel’s seaports had for decades been hotbeds of infamous union corruption that flourished under the protective aegis of the Histadrut.

LABOR MK Avishai Braverman looks at a model of a crane 370 (photo credit: Knesset)
LABOR MK Avishai Braverman looks at a model of a crane 370
(photo credit: Knesset)
Labor party chairwoman Shelly Yacimovich walloped Ashdod Port’s omnipotent union chief where it really hurt. She highlighted his lifestyle, hardly compatible in Israeli terms with that of a proletarian warrior.
Alon Hassan, she noted, lives in a “sumptuous home, with a swimming pool in the yard, drives luxury vehicles, operates a plethora of private enterprises – which all mysteriously do business with the port – promotes nepotism and cronyism in public tenders, imposes a reign of terror at the port and even closes it down for private celebrations.”
Hassan treats Ashdod Port as his personal property, to be used to his advantage and aggrandizement.
Recent revelations that Hassan operated shipping, moving and cleaning firms that did brisk and lucrative transactions with the port triggered the latest hullabaloo and forced him to magnanimously suspend himself.
But the mire of shady dealings and the callous, blatant waste of taxpayer shekels were hardly unknown. This contributed to the backlash against Yacimovich for daring to castigate corrupt union hotshots.
There is no doubt that Yacimovich should have spoken out before this became a cause célèbre. Israel’s seaports had for decades been hotbeds of infamous union corruption that flourished under the protective aegis of the Histadrut labor federation. From time to time new sleazy details surfaced to scandalize public opinion but the underlying slime was never washed down and mopped up.
The Histadrut regularly rejected any clean-up as a nefarious plot against organized labor. The unions continued to behave badly and grotesquely demonstrate their intensifying abuse of the system that made them inviolable.
Against this background, Yacimovich’s denunciation of union malfeasance is exceptionally courageous and should be lauded. Better late than never – especially from the ranks of the Labor Party, which is still tied to the Histadrut establishment.
The festering malaise at our seaports is not merely the transgression of given individuals. It is endemic and facilitates illicit control by a succession of strongmen who assume they can abuse the citizenry ad infinitum.
Each time a new government tries for a showdown, with an eye to reforming the ports, union honchos triumph, mostly because of the power they have to hold the rest of us to ransom and effectively shut down the economy.
The Histadrut consistently backs this extortion.
While posturing as the champion of the have-nots, our labor federation has evolved into a monopolist oligarchy of the 13 most powerful unions – including that of the port employees. They are by far the public sector’s highest earners (considerably more so than the runners-up in the Israel Electric Corporation). It is the in-your-face excesses and unabashed power grabs by these public sector fat-cats that the Histadrut has been defending most ferociously.
Such shenanigans cost ordinary Israeli households cumulatively more than do the tycoons at the top of the pyramid. Corrupt employees not only bite into an unfair share of the national tax revenue, but, when they gum up the works at the ports, they make our imports more expensive and our exports less competitive.
No society can allow itself to be held up this way, much less one whose economy is already so hard-pressed.
Monopolistic unions deform Israel’s commerce and underscore the urgency to privatize Ashdod and Haifa ports. Pro forma, that is the current government’s aim.
But we have heard it all before. Embattled as the government is just to balance the budget, it is doubtful that it would go out on a limb and incur Histadrut wrath with a drastic confrontation.
That, of course, is unfortunate, because without a thorough overhaul, systemic defects will continue to undermine proper administration and corrode public trust.
Only privatizing the ports will in the long run increase their efficiency, by introducing constructive competition between them.
Monopoly power is fundamentally destructive. It is the duty of a government to serve the people who installed it in office and break up corrosive monopolies that stymie free competition. It is high time to remind the Hassans on the waterfront that the ports do not belong to them but to all of us.